FC Barcelona will look to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the table when they host SD Eibar at the Nou Camp on Sunday.

It’s probably safe to say that FC Barcelona clearly haven’t had the best of starts in the league this season, failing to win six of their 18 matches so far. But thanks to Atletico Madrid’s inconsistencies, coupled with Real Madrid’s insipid performances this term, the Catalan giants still have a five-point lead at the top. And they will look to maintain on that record when they host SD Eibar this weekend.

The hosts have fared rather well in recent matches, winning each of their last four games in the league, during which they have conceded only two goals. However, it’s the attack, that has impressed for Barcelona this season, with the Catalans scoring 50 goals in just 18 matches – 19 more than Celta Vigo and Sevilla – the joint second highest scoring sides in the league.

As for Eibar, they have scored quite a few goals as well but the defence has let them down big time this season, as they often tend to concede an early goal. In fact, Los Almeros have drawn their last five matches in all competitions, in three of which, they had to come back from behind.

But on a more positive note, the Blue and Carmines have only lost one of their last nine games in all competitions and head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar will be hoping that his side can maintain that solidity when they face Barcelona this weekend.

And here at the Hard Tackle, we run the rule over the two sides ahead of their crucial match-up on Sunday.

Team news & tactics

FC Barcelona

Valverde will be missing out on the services of key defender Samuel Umtiti as well as Rafinha, both of whom are currently facing a spell on the sidelines. Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper, meanwhile, are doubts heading into this game.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: Ernesto Valverde, Manager of Barcelona looks on prior to the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 22, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Valverde will ring in the changes this weekend. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Barcelona have recently signed Jeison Murillo from Valencia in order to bulk up their defensive options. The Colombian started in the last game against Levante but will be dropped to the bench in this one, with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet likely to return at the heart of the Barcelona backline.

Following a dreadful performance against Levante, both the fullbacks in Nelson Semedo and Juan Miranda are sure to make way for the trusted duo of Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba.

Valverde will shuffle his pack in midfield as well and with the Spanish mastermind likely to revert to his customary 4-3-3. Sergio Busquets will be deployed as the main holding midfielder. The 30-year-old will be partnered by Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, whose aggression will be key in dealing with the in-form Fabian Orellana.

Malcom was given a rare start against Levante. But, the former Bordeaux star will be replaced by the one and only Lionel Messi in the right wing slot while Ousmane Dembele, who initially started as a false nine vs Levante, will operate on the opposite flank. The attack will be led by Luis Suarez.

Probable lineup(4-3-3): ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal; Messi, Suarez, Dembele.

SD Eibar

Ivan Ramis’ likely absence could be a huge blow for Eibar this weekend. The veteran centre-back is a doubt going into this fixture while Pedro Leon is facing a spell on the sidelines.

PAMPLONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 31: Head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar of CA Osasuna looks on during the La Liga match between CA Osasuna and Villareal CF at El Sadar Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Pamplona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Can Mendilibar mastermind another upset? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

And with Ramis likely to miss out, Paulo Oliviera will deputize for the 34-year-old against Barcelona. He’ll start alongside Anaitz Arbilla at the heart of the Eibar backline while Mendilibar is likely to resort to his trusted defensive duo of Ruben Pena and Jose Angel in the fullback slots.

Gonzalo Escalante, as usual, will be deployed at the base of Eibar’s 4-4-2. His main job would be to provide defensive cover for the backline and he may have to do that job all alone, with the attack-minded Joan Jordan most likely to be his midfielder partner this weekend.

Elsewhere, Fabian Orellana and Marc Cucurella will be deployed in wider midfield positions, where the former will look to use his audacity to cause a threat to the Barcelona backline while Cucurella’s cautious approach will help Eibar maintain their balance in midfield.

Veteran striker Charles, who is currently the club’s top scorer with six goals, is a doubt for this clash. Therefore, Eibar might be forced to opt for Kike leading the attack alongside Sergi Enrich.

Probable lineup(4-4-2): Riesgo; Pena, Oliviera, Arbilla, Angel; Orellana, Jordan, Escalante, Cucurella; Kike, Enrich.

Key stats

  • Barcelona have scored at least 2 goals in 34 of their last 38 home matches.
  • Barcelona have a good record against Basque sides under Valverde, remaining unbeaten in their last 11 matches.
  • Eibar have conceded most goals and tasted most defeats at the hands of Barcelona in Laliga.
  • The hosts also have a good record against their weekend opponents, winning all of their last eight matches in all competition.
  • Barcelona have been winning at both half time and full time in their last 5 matches.

Player to watch

Lionel Messi

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 22: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on December 22, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

King Leo! (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Recently named in UEFA’s Team of the Year for 2018, Lionel Messi will look to extend his excellent record in front of goal, having already netted 16 goals in 16 matches whilst mustering 11 assists.

In addition, the Argentine superstar has been involved in 15 goals since returning from a forearm fracture back in early November. He has played only seven league games since then.

Therefore, Messi will certainly cause some problems for the Basque side, who haven’t been all that convincing in the defensive department either. However, the Barcelona star may struggle if Eibar do manage to cut off supplies as well as marking him as tightly as they can, although it will largely depend on how they manage to utilize their two banks of four.

Prediction

Barcelona 3-0 Eibar

Eibar pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season when they secured a 3-0 win over Real Madrid earlier this season. But, Mendilibar’s men are doubt to struggle against a much more complete Barcelona side, who have been in stunning form, of late. Thus, we expect the Catalans to secure a rather comfortable 3-0 win this weekend.